Janesville School District’s WKCE scores exceed state averages

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

— Janesville public school officials are celebrating the results of the latest round of state tests, but the district still has work to do, especially with students in the city’s poorest areas.

Results of state tests that students took last fall were released today. For the first time since the No Child Left Behind system went into effect in 2002, the Janesville School District’s results exceeded the state averages at every grade level.

“Parents and the Janesville community can be proud of our students’ efforts …,” Superintendent Karen Schulte said in a news release. “At a time when the teaching staff is leaner and the budget tighter, student learning has not been sacrificed, and their achievement has remained front and center with our staff.”

The tests rate students in grades 3-8 and 10 as minimal, basic, proficient and advanced in math and English.

The percentage of Janesville students at each grade level that achieved proficient or advanced standing on the math and reading tests was higher than the state average in every instance.

The percentages might seem low. That’s because the test scores needed to qualify for “proficient” or “advanced” were raised this year. The increased expectations are a prelude to a more rigorous testing system the state plans to introduce in 2014.

Also notable in this year’s results is improvement by the middle and high schools. Every one of those schools exceeded the state averages in every grade. Not all elementary schools could say the same.

Kim Ehrhardt, the district’s director of instruction, wasn’t ready to declare victory at the middle and high school levels. He said the proof would be consistently high performance over four or five years.

Wilson and Jackson elementaries had particularly weak showings, with nearly every result in math and reading below the state average. Those schools have the highest percentages of children from low-income families.

Ehrhardt said the district’s system for improving student achievement will work in the high-poverty schools, but it will take longer for the changes to take effect because students in poor families generally are not as ready for school—in their vocabularies and background knowledge—as their peers.

“It’s not an excuse, though,” said Julie DeCook, a district curriculum coordinator.

DeCook said Jackson School students have shown a lot of growth, “so their kids are making leaps and bounds, even though they may be behind the state average.”

DeCook noted that Jackson and Wilson schools also have large numbers of students whose first language is not English, so they tend to score lower on reading tests.

Jackson and Wilson schools both benefit from a state program that decreases class sizes in the lower grades and from after-school programs.

The state also identified Wilson School for special help after last year’s tests. The results of that assistance won’t show up until next year’s tests, officials said.

Ehrhardt attributed the overall success to higher expectations and to teachers, principals and other staff giving greater attention to all the details that make up the district’s improvement plans.

Those plans include focusing on reading and math instruction and on the results of a variety of tests students take. Staff members analyze those tests to pinpoint weaknesses and then adjust teaching to address them.

Ehrhardt said there’s been “better buy-in by the rank and file” of district plans.

Ehrhardt also cited the district’s “data-driven” evaluations of the superintendent and other administrators, which specify that student performance on state tests is a top priority.

Other elements include teaching of the same curriculum at each school and each grade level, DeCook said.

The district did not have numbers prepared to show the performance of students with disabilities or students who are members of minority groups, but Ehrhardt said that in general, performance gaps remain, even though those groups are doing better than the state average.

Students in grades 4, 8 and 10 also take tests in language, science and social studies. They exceeded the state averages in these subjects at all levels, officials said.

Last updated: 10:23 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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